Richard Branson gives away Virgin cruises to Delta passengers

British billionaire promoted his cruise line with a big giveaway to Delta passengers boarding a flight to San Juan at Hartsfield-Jackson
Robin Lane reacts after spinning the wheel for a prize as Richard Branson (left), founder of the Virgin Group, looks on. Virgin Voyages and Delta hosted a full departure gate takeover prior to the flight's boarding at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024, in Atlanta. Sir Richard Branson, Delta Air Lines and Virgin Voyages surprised customers on Delta Flight 1946 (from ATL to SJU), gifting all an-board a free cruise to celebrate all-new itineraries and the brand’s growing presence in San Juan later this year. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Robin Lane reacts after spinning the wheel for a prize as Richard Branson (left), founder of the Virgin Group, looks on. Virgin Voyages and Delta hosted a full departure gate takeover prior to the flight's boarding at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024, in Atlanta. Sir Richard Branson, Delta Air Lines and Virgin Voyages surprised customers on Delta Flight 1946 (from ATL to SJU), gifting all an-board a free cruise to celebrate all-new itineraries and the brand’s growing presence in San Juan later this year. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Some passengers getting ready to board a Delta Air Lines flight to San Juan, Puerto Rico, from Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on Thursday got an unusual surprise: A free cruise and an encounter with the flamboyant British entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson.

Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, speaks to customers and hints they will receive a gift as Virgin Voyages and Delta host a full departure gate takeover prior to the flight's boarding at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024, in Atlanta. Sir Richard Branson, Delta Air Lines and Virgin Voyages surprised customers on Delta Flight 1946 (from ATL to SJU), gifting all an-board a free cruise to celebrate all-new itineraries and the brand’s growing presence in San Juan later this year. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

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Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

The billionaire Branson is the founder of the Virgin Group, and his Virgin Atlantic airline has been a British partner carrier of Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines for more than a decade. He greeted passengers in a bright red top coat with tails and black top hat.

Delta bought a 49% stake in Virgin Atlantic in 2013 and with it gained more access to London Heathrow Airport. In 2020, Delta linked together its joint ventures with Air France, KLM and Virgin Atlantic into one large trans-Atlantic joint venture between the carriers with antitrust immunity for flights in the U.S.-Europe market.

Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, kisses customer Nekita Harvey’s hand as Virgin Voyages and Delta host a full departure gate takeover prior to the flight's boarding at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024, in Atlanta. Sir Richard Branson, Delta Air Lines and Virgin Voyages surprised customers on Delta Flight 1946 (from ATL to SJU), gifting all an-board a free cruise to celebrate all-new itineraries and the brand’s growing presence in San Juan later this year. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

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Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Branson’s Virgin Voyages launched in 2021 as an adults-only cruise line. Delta also sells Virgin Voyages cruises on its website.

Delta said all members of its SkyMiles frequent flier program who were on board its Flight 1946 from Atlanta to San Juan on Thursday got a free Virgin Voyages cruise for later this year, as part of the cruise line’s promotion of its expansion in San Juan.

Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, makes a surprise appearance as Virgin Voyages and Delta host a full departure gate takeover prior to the flight's boarding at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024, in Atlanta. Sir Richard Branson, Delta Air Lines and Virgin Voyages surprised customers on Delta Flight 1946 (from ATL to SJU), gifting all an-board a free cruise to celebrate all-new itineraries and the brand’s growing presence in San Juan later this year. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

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Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Passengers will be able to take a free cruise on the Virgin ship Resilient Lady, which will have San Juan as her homeport starting later this year.

Earlier this week, Virgin Voyages announced it was moving Resilient Lady after her Mediterranean sailing season Oct. 20 to San Juan, instead of repositioning the ship and planning sailings between Europe and Australia.

That followed other route changes, with Virgin Voyages explaining in a post on its website that “we remain very concerned about potential escalations in the Red Sea over the next 12 months” amid attacks in the region.

“This significant and ongoing conflict puts unacceptable risks for safe passage through the region for our Sailors, crew and vessel (Resilient Lady),” Virgin Voyages said. “Resilient Lady will now complete her Mediterranean sailing season on October 20th, 2024, and divert course sailing to San Juan, Puerto Rico, for a new Caribbean season,” it said.

On Tuesday night, a rocket exploded off a cargo ship traveling through the Red Sea off the coast of Yemen, as Houthis continue a series of assaults over Israel’s war on Hamas in the Gaza strip, the Associated Press reported.

On Thursday, Virgin Voyages had entertainment, drinks and music, and gave away prizes to people who spun a wheel at a gate at the Atlanta airport’s Concourse A, according to Delta.

Crew members take their photos as Virgin Voyages and Delta host a full departure gate takeover prior to the flight's boarding at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024, in Atlanta. Sir Richard Branson, Delta Air Lines and Virgin Voyages surprised customers on Delta Flight 1946 (from ATL to SJU), gifting all an-board a free cruise to celebrate all-new itineraries and the brand’s growing presence in San Juan later this year. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

icon to expand image

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC